September 5, 2008

Authority in the Church

Following conversation sparked from some thoughts on Bonhoeffer and Adam's thoughts, I've been thinking about authority and pastoral identity. As a postmodern, I'm inclined to distrust and critique the modern creation known as the "pastor." Why? There are many reasons, but here's only a few.

Many pastors hold so much authority that they are held to higher standards than normal people. Catch that, we're even comfortable dislocating the pastor from the congregation, the lay people and the pastor, there again arises the sacred/secular divide. It seems that pastors, because they are given the spotlight can represent all that is bad or wrong with the church or must hold all that is good and right with it. This is simply too much responsibility for an individual, but rather authority must be carried in community.

Here's where I take issue with theologians like Moltmann who over emphasize the democratic nature of the church so much that any semblance of an authoritarian figure is bad. In reality our churches are full of busy people, thus there must be room for the church to appoint certain people to take care of ministerial and administrative duties.

Good Reformationists would say that authority lies in the Scripture, but the question is still who has the authority to interpret the Scripture: the pastor or people? I see a need for a healthy interplay between both. All communities will have leaders that hold more authority in the congregation, and it is healthy only when that person or group of persons is given that authority by the community. Authority ultimately lies in Christ working though the Holy Spirit represented by the whole of the church. Thus, not only must there be interplay between leaders and the community, but there must be interplay between communities of different theological, geographical, political, and socio-economic difference.

What are your thoughts on authority in the church, especially in light of "pastoral" identity?


Anonymous said...

hmmmm... been stewing on this one. i think people in the church being busy is a lame excuse. it only points out the problematic structure of our churches. maybe you're asking how do we deal with the reality of First Baptist. in that case you do make compromises, but i still think we should be working towards authority held communally. working with house church this summer i see that it can be done. there is no control over doctrine, only healthy dialogue and mutual correction. some people have some wacky views, trust me, but ultimately it isn't detrimental to the community.

we just started roland allen for PMS and i am 100% on board. down with control, down with "authority, up with the Spirit and up with people...wait that last one is copyrighted i think.

Adam said...

I'm right with Lucas on this.

JoeBumbulis said...

I'm not necessarily talking about doctrine, although I find it interesting that the discussion of authority quickly turns to doctrine.

I'm talking about the presence and role of a person chosen within the community to fulfill ministerial duties or servant duties, such as what happened in the New Testament.

Even your answer relies on an authority, ie. Roland Allen. The choice for the communal experience of authority rests in the authority of a missiologist and/or theologian.

I think what I'm arguing for is the pastor whose authority is invested to her/him by the church. Thus, there needs to be an interplay between the figure who has been given the authority and the the congregation who has imparted the authority.

Secondly, it might be fruitful for this time to break away from how authority is misused and hinders growth, especially in relationship to doctrine. Instead, maybe it would help to talk about authority in presence (as in a hospital room or at time of death), prophetic voice, spiritual formation, or theological imagination.